Building a safe world based on a sustainable water, food and integrity nexus

This blog entry was written by WIN’s Knowledge Management and Research Coordinator, Binayak Das.

Our world is facing an urgent food management crisis that is leading to many continuing to go hungry whilst vast amounts of food are being wasted daily. This is why the link between water and food is of immense concern and this year, the World Water Week in Stockholm, organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) was dedicated to this issue. Within the complex nexus of water, food and energy, water plays a critical role and a fair governance mechanism for efficient management of water can lead to long-term positive implications for food security. However, water governance and management are currently suffering from numerous problems that prevent this positive long-term perspective from becoming a reality.

One of the biggest challenges for good water governance is corruption as it can act as a catalyst for inefficient water management. Corruption is in itself an already sensitive topic that, when mishandled, can further scuttle the progresses made for better water governance. Any attempt to link water, integrity and food is therefore adding layers to an already compounded problem.

The Water Integrity Network (WIN), the UNDP-Water Governance Facility (WGF) at SIWI and Transparency International (TI) joined hands to raise this multi-layered issue through a seminar titled Promoting Integrity and Transparency in Water for Food during the World Water Week in Stockholm. A background paper developed by WIN – Why water integrity matters for food security, highlighted the main corruption issues within the water and food nexus and drew on examples to tackling the problem. The issues highlighted in the paper ranged from water allocation, land leasing, irrigation and ground water management to food distribution and the embedded integrity challenges within these areas.

The seminar started with an introduction to water integrity and food by Håkan Tropp, Programme Director of WGF, linking water and food within a value chain that cuts across from the pre-harvest to the post-harvest phase. The presentation emphasised for strengthening the water food integrity nexus.

Presentations from different corners of the world not only displayed, through examples, the existence of corruption embedded in water management for food production but also introduced good practices that are countering the problem of corruption. Examples from Ghana, Chile and Kazakhstan showed the rot within the system and that bribery and kickbacks, whether related to water licensing or planning and commissioning of small dams, play a crucial role. A presentation on corruption in relation to small dams was based on a study by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the winners of this year’s Stockholm Water Award and a summarised brief; The circumstances of corruption in planning small reservoirs in sub-Saharan Africa, was jointly published by WIN and IWMI on this study. The existence of malpractices in food aid, especially in disaster situations, such as in periods of drought and when the people are most vulnerable and very dependent on aid, was also presented during the seminar. This presentation was based on a study – Food Assistance Integrity Study , by TI-Kenya.

But examples also highlighted that the embedded layers of corruption can be peeled off. Communities are coming together in Indonesia, India and Ecuador to strengthen transparency, data sharing, participatory decision making and social auditing. Various tools like MASSCOTE, developed by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to modernise irrigation, and web based transparency indicators, like the Water Management Transparency Index (WMTI) developed by TI-Spain, the Water Observatory and others,  have already shown signs of success.

Among the participants in the World Water Week, many showed a keen interest on the issues of integrity, transparency and accountability. However, corruption requires some time to sink into the agendas of water sector organisations. This is because attitudes towards corruption in the water sector are still guarded. A sustained effort is therefore required to bring it on the agendas of different participating organisations in Stockholm that are actually in a position to make a difference.

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